TEHRAN.(Iranart) - Saqi Atai says she had psychological aspects of characters in mind when she directed the play Enigma Variations by Franco-Belgian playwright Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt.
Her debut work as director proves relentlessly compelling. One wouldn't exactly call it a deep work - despite its philosophical pretensions, it's more witty than wise - but Enigma’s characters possess a strange, restless energy that holds one's attention despite deep flaws.
Saqi Atai has been a stage assistant director for two decades. She has been assistant director to A-list directors like Alireza Naderi and Mohammad Yaghoubi. A graduate of dramatic arts, Atai has written plays and acted on stage as well. Enigma Variations is her first job on stage as director. The play is on stage at the Capital Theater starring Houman Kiani and Vahid Aghapour. Following is an interview with her about the play and more:
Many youngsters prefer to act than work behind the scene. This way they can become famous quickly. Why did you go against the current?
I began to work behind the stage for the first time with 77/6/31, a play by Alireza Naderi. He wanted me to act but I declined. Instead, he let me work with him behind the scenes. It was a great experience. I came to know many theater groups which allowed me to work behind the scenes with them as well. I got the chance to act on stage as well which also paid off. But most of the times I had job offers to work behind the scenes.
Tell us about your adapted play?
Many people asked me to direct. They argued that I have what it takes to direct a stage play. I started working as assistant director first. Later I tried my luck in directing but failed. Then I tried hard to find a play to try again. A friend of mine suggested I read The Enigma Variations by Franco-Belgian playwright Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt. I liked it a lot and decided to stage its first part. You know, to direct you need to have an ability to express yourself both orally and in writing and to be creative, persuasive and prepared to take artistic risks; You also need to have excellent negotiation and interpersonal skills; self-motivation and the ability to motivate and inspire others; and of course, team working and time management skills, among others. It’s a serious responsibility. So I tried not to rush things and do it step by step and gradually. I read the piece to some audiences and they liked it too. This encouraged me to stage the original play.
You said directors need to have life experiences. Can you explain that?
Life experience has nothing to do with age and years. It all depends on circumstances and conditions that you are in. Sometimes a 90 year old man could have fewer life experiences than a 30 year old man. I am sure it is everyone’s experience, as it has been mine, that any discovery we make about ourselves or the meaning of life is never, like a scientific discovery, a coming upon something entirely new and unsuspected; it is rather, the coming to conscious recognition of something, which we really knew all the time but, because we were unwilling to formulate it correctly, we did not hitherto know we knew. What gives us the depth and deep vision in life is part of our life experiences. Difficulties in life give us more depth in vision as well. However, that does in no way mean just because you have had a difficult life you also have more experience than others.
Is this kind of experience useful for acting?
Life experience could be earned by reading books, watching films, travelling abroad, meeting people and seeing things that happen to us along the way. These things work together to create for us a world vision, or ideology. It is important for a director to have this kind of experience and vision. You cannot direct if you don’t have some kind of life experiences.
The characters of Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt have many layers. The characters in Enigma also have similar trends. They are strange and know no borders. You used a psychologist to delve into the characters in this play. Tell us why?
Schmitt is a humanitarian that has no intention to judge anyone. This is why I chose his play. It also had something to do with the psychology of his characters. They all suffer from certain conditions that are not black and white. They have all the good and bad trends in them together. I tried to exaggerate their characteristics. Perhaps this also has something to do with my own studies at college. That’s why the psychology of my characters has become so evident throughout the play. Enigma makes do with only two characters: the Nobel Prize-winning author Znorko and a provincial newspaper reporter come to interview him, Erik Larsen. Dr. Ali Babaeizadeh helped me a lot through the entire process as well. I discussed things with him in two separate sessions. He took part in rehearsals and helped me find the key characteristic trends for the play.
In the play, you have sacrificed love and the object of love which is a woman. The two men in love with the woman character have different views about her. One sees her as a beautiful object, the other not. Why so much contradictions?
It all depends on the mindset and sense of a man to see a woman as beautiful or not. One character plays the mind and the other the sense of a man. It seems Schmitt also had something like this in mind – as if these two characters are one and the same. Schmitt covers a variety of themes in his work. In Enigma, the author gives voice to two very different men, who discuss their own philosophies of life and love - as it turns out; both are in love with the same woman. The story gets interesting because these two men see things differently.
Any plans to adapt another foreign play for stage?
My goal as director is to create awareness and build culture. I like to say what goes on in my mind. I prefer not to go so much after foreign materials and stories. I chose Schmitt’s play because I saw so many commonalities between the two cultures. I like to direct Iranian plays but they are nowhere to be found. Not many people nowadays like to be a playwright. Perhaps this has something to do with low income, censorship and copyright violations. Whatever this is, it is hard to find a good Iranian play to direct. This forces people like me to look for it elsewhere.